Art And Philosophy At Silver Falls
by Seth David Friedman
To paraphrase Henry Moore, “art is not made out of despair, but a belief in the possibilities of life.” There can be no truer embodiment of this sentiment than Silver Falls Symposium, now in its 20th year.
This was my second year attending, and to be honest, it started with my usual trepidation. Did I really want to leave the joyful solitude of my city-backyard-carving-space and go anywhere else? But Silver Falls is no ordinary place, as this example from 2010 hopes to illustrate.
It was just past dusk, stands of massive trees in shadow, peak insulin-levels dropping (from yet another remarkable dessert), and stars in their full biblical glory. Rich Hestekind approached the fire circle in his usual sage-like manner. He pressed his hands together in reverence. We waited. With utter delight, he recounted the following: “I was just leaving my cabin, and (pause) when I opened the door, there were two raccoons; two raccoons just standing there. As if they were waiting to come in. I have never seen anything like it in my life.” The cabin that Rich was staying in was aptly named, Raccoon. While this may seem like a tall tale (I do realize that campfires around the world are routinely used as informal stages for such stories), there is no story about Silver Falls that I would call impossible.
Many scholars suggest that the best things cannot be said. Or to put it another way, "He who knows cannot speak." So, with the caveat that what I am about to recount to you, is by nature, unsayable, please excuse the prose that is to come. To carve at Silver Falls is a fundamentally meaningful experience. The reason is quite clear. Most of the time you make art in the woods (metaphorically) by yourself. I’d suggest this is the easier side of things. The harder part is getting your work, and yourself, back into the world with the jewel you have recovered (this latter part of that sentence was completely borrowed/stolen/appropriated from Joseph Campbell). Silver Falls equals living your art while being in community. There, the full circle is completed on a minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour and day-to-day basis.
It might also be argued that doing something you love (avoiding any need to invoke the “art" part) around others walking the same path is nothing short of a tribal act. Please note this latter idea was not influenced by my carving area being setup next to Jeff Parker, who would occasionally whip out a piece of medieval fighting gear and enter my limited field of perceptual space (e.g. goggles, respirator, and ear-muffs).
It was this and more. The “more” was watching John Fisher live the embodied truth that carving contains all history, seeing Bill Pickerd expose the beauty of his life-long relationship with alabaster, witnessing the consistently mind-blowing auction-bidding technique of Lane Tompkins, or getting to talk with Paul Buckner, even for just a few minutes about life. My cup overflows.
Ok, now for the more nefarious part. There is no good without evil. Be forewarned, if you know you have a tool or a stone problem; do not come to Silver Falls. If you are unclear whether you have a tool or a stone problem, please contact Tom Urban who can help you make a definitive diagnosis. Then he will help you to buy a lot more stuff. This is the first step (as I have been told) towards a full rehabilitation.
At least two other things of note at Silver Falls seemed to travel back and forth between heaven and hell. The food, and the utmost care taken in its preparation and delivery, heaven. A third slice of one of the many celebratory cakes created, closer to hell. Seeing the joy and all-encompassing activity that comes from creating large public art projects, heaven. Learning about what excruciating bureaucracy, patience, and resolve is necessary to actually get, finish, and not have your personality splinter on one of these projects, hell (thanks Brian (Goldbloom).
One last thing warrants mention. This year marked the recent passing of David Miller, a fixture at Silver Falls, and a dear friend to many who were present. Sadly, I did not know him. Near the end of the symposium, some of his tools were available for sale, and I bought his old 3/4D pneumatic hammer.
And then, before I knew it, I was loading up my van, donning my much beloved auctioneer’s afro for a few hours, and driving back towards Seattle. As I drove, I considered just what I had experienced. The best analogy I could come up with was that it was a sort of like birth: terrifying, joyful, yet reeking of life all the same. Unlike most vacation experiences that leave too quickly, as I oil up David's hammer in my city-backyard, I can almost hear the wind in those massive trees. Part of me is still there.
Thanks Silver Falls.